I’ve heard people say to “write what you know”, and I’m sure you have too. Of course, it never seems to really make sense–unless, of course, you’re writing an autobiography. But today I had quite the adventure, and I learned more about what “writing what you know” means.
The idea came into my head like, well, a light bulb flashing on. I could be like my characters. I could be called to action. I could be called to adventure and have to leave home.
Characters usually have to leave their homes–it’s an integral section of the Hero’s Journey–and my personal characters have had that experience too. Usually, they have to do it quickly, sometimes within a matter of minutes.
So I decided that I would try the same thing. I would give myself ten minutes to gather whatever I would need to survive while journeying for three days, and then get out of my house before the time ran out, without anyone noticing. I gave myself a tiny bit to think of what I might bring with me, and then I began.
Those ten minutes gave me an adrenaline rush, though there wasn’t any real threat. I started by grabbing my backpack and going downstairs to my room, then emptying out my school stuff and putting stuff in it. Running up and down the stairs and collecting items in the ten minutes would’ve been hard enough.
What made it harder was that my siblings were watching.
They were milling around the kitchen and other important areas upstairs, doing their thing, and I had to collect stuff and bring it downstairs without them noticing. I’m honestly amazed that they didn’t see me carrying the food down, because I felt like it was totally obvious.
At the very last second, I yanked open my bedroom window, pulled out the screen, and exited from my window well, so my family wouldn’t see what I was doing, and emerged outside with my backpack on my back and ready for adventure.
The first thing that I found really interesting about this experience was how easy it was. I got this weird thrill when I looked down at the stuff I was packing in the backpack and realized, I could be running away right now. This is how easy it would be. Ten minutes, and I could be gone.
Not that I’d ever want to run away from my home, of course, but I’d never really thought it would be that easy to do so. No one really paid attention as I carted stuff downstairs; no one seemed to care what I was doing. It would have been so easy to just disappear.
The second thing I found really interesting was some of the specific things I bought with me.
Of course some of this things are practical and expected: some food, money, a coat, clothes, shoes. But some of it surprised me after the ten minutes were up and I was reflecting on what had happened.
I’d brought my scriptures, the USB with all my novels saved on it, and a blank notebook and a pencil, without even really thinking about it. They just seemed like things I might need.
And after I’d calmed down, I was kind of amused by those choices. Who knew if I’d ever find a computer where I could upload my novels? If I was running away, would I really have time to write stories in my notebook?
But it makes sense, too. Those are the things that are the most integral parts of my life, and so I put them in there. I read my scriptures every day, and I want to keep reading them, so I put them in. I love to write, so I put in the USB and the notebook so I can keep doing it.
I’d always thought that someone leaving home would take the most practical and the most memorable with them, but it turned out that I hardly took anything that had memories for me. No stuffed animals, no mementos to remind myself of my family. Instead, I took unmarked scriptures and a blank notebook.
Both of these insights helped take me into my character’s shoes, and now, I can write about it properly, because I’m writing what I know. Obviously, my characters wouldn’t go through the same process as I did–most of them don’t even live in the same world!–but from my discoveries, I can, in a sense, know what my characters would do.
I can now write a running away scene where no one seems to notice, or make it so they have to avoid people who are around while they collect the items needed for their journey. I’d never thought about how people might be around, and now I can write it properly.
And if I know what’s most important to my characters and what they do every day, what their habits are, then what they put in the bag would reflect that, instead of small mementos that hold memories but are only occasionally used or glanced at.
This was such an interesting experience, and I want to experience more of these moments where I get into my characters’ shoes, and then share my insights with you. Any suggestions on what scenario I should try out next?